Time to explore amalgamation
|By Lisa Gervais - Editor | Oct. 18, 2018|
I was looking at the archives the other day and came across an editorial I’d written on Dec. 1, 2016. At the time, some county councillors were discussing change. One of the suggestions was that the warden be elected to a two-year term instead of one. There was also talk of the public electing the warden, making it a nine-person governance body, instead of eight. And, of course, there was a discussion about changing the name of the heads of council locally to mayor and deputy mayor from reeve and deputy reeve.
Algonquin Highlands Mayor Carol Moffatt was at the forefront of the change movement back then. She even put the warden’s banquet and golf tournaments out to pasture as a sign of the changing times. Incidentally, hers was the first council to make the swap to mayor and deputy mayor.
Why am I revisiting this? Well, they never got around to making the warden’s job a two-year term and there’ll be no warden elected by the county-at-large next week. It’s relevant with renewed talks of amalgamation and our elected representatives’ ability, or inability to date, to make change.
Minden Hills Mayor Brent Devolin is very much campaigning for change in the way local government operates in the County of Haliburton and its four lower-tier municipalities. However, as we have seen by the lack of action on Moffatt’s other suggestions at the county table, we can’t really leave the decision to local politicians.
So, what has to happen at one of the earliest meetings of County Council this year, is putting together an RFP seeking a consultant or individual with vast knowledge of Ontario’s amalgamation history to craft a report to county council.
There is already a lot of literature out there. The Fraser Institute released a report in the spring of 2015 that basically concluded that the municipal amalgamation in Ontario failed to achieve cost savings in both big and small cities. That study found significant increases in property taxes, compensation for municipal employees, and long-term debt between 2000 and 2012.
A lot of people are pointing to our neighbours to the south, the City of Kawartha Lakes, and lauding their decision to cut the number of elected officials to eight, from 16. Those same councillors awarded the incoming councillors a $10,000 pay rise, though. And, for those who don’t know, in Kawartha Lakes, municipal employee compensation increased 52.8 per cent over 12 years following amalgamation.
The knock on the Mike Harris-forced amalgamations is they were shoved down municipalities throats and that speed did not allow for good planning and execution. All the more reason that there should be a made-in-Haliburton County solution over the next four years with a goal to make local government more efficient.
Dysart deputy mayor candidate Patrick Kennedy mentioned the Confederation Model at the last all-candidates’ debate. Under it, three Alberta councils are figuring out how to collaboratively work together. It includes sharing services, setting up joint committees, secondments, joint purchasing and partnerships.
We think it is reasonable to finally have a study done locally to see whether some form of amalgamation will work for the taxpayers of Haliburton County. This, with public input, should put us in a position in time for the next municipal election to either stick with the status quo or change based on the findings
Lisa Gervais is the editor for The Highlander.